This morning over at KELO AM, Todd Epp, Greg Belfrage show producer has a story on legislative success statistics, as prompted by a chart provided to him by State Senator Stace Nelson. Nelson, of course, has always exhibited a tendency towards self-aggrandizement. Not unexpected in a politician, but even in this instance, there comes a point where it’s a bit much:
The main run of the South Dakota Legislature recently ended and now we’re starting to see some report cards about their performance.
One survey (see bottom of page) that state Sen. Stace Nelson (R-Fulton) shared with KELO News takes the approach of “How many of your bills or resolutions passed?” or is it “How many bills and resolutions did you introduce?” or is it the opposite, “How many bills or resolutions did you not introduce?”
For example, the aforementioned Sen. Nelson introduced 38 total bills or resolutions, three passed one chamber, five measures passed both chambers, two concurrent resolutions passed, and 13 commemorations passed. So, 20 of 38 bills or resolutions Nelson was main sponsor on passed for a 53% pass rate. On the other hand, 15 of these were commemorations, which seldom face opposition.
In the same chamber, Senate Majority Leader Blake Curd (R-Sioux Falls) “only” sponsored seven bills, six of which passed both chambers and one was a concurrent resolution. That gave him a perfect 100 percent batting average.
Mark Twain once quipped “Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'”
In the instance of Senator Nelson’s “chart of awesomeness” where he counted a Kloucekian number of resolutions for himself as a sign of legislative excellence, shockingly, the sheer numbers of resolutions managed to skew his rating.
The problem with the figures being used in the chart presented to Epp is that unless a resolution is controversial or offensive to some, it is passed with little or no opposition, as it’s viewed as a legislative thanks for service, or an “attaboy” for recognizable accomplishment.
Removing those numbers, we’re left to look at the actual legislation a member brought. Some people count bills introduced as those where you’re the prime sponsor in your own chamber, as well as legislation from the opposite chamber, where a person is in all actuality carrying another member’s bill. And again, in that latter case, you’re really not doing more than standing on someone else’s shoulders, as the idea for – the genesis of the bill, if you will – was someone else’s.
In that case, if we’re legitimately to calculate a legislator’s worth based on what they do in Pierre, those numbers should be stripped from one’s own “rating of legislative awesomeness.”
So, for Senator Nelson, that takes the hyper-inflated success ratio he calculated for himself from a whopping 53% pass rate… down to reality, where only 1 of his 7 bills he authored and was the prime sponsor for met with the approval of his colleagues and the Governor.
One bill. So, we would say that in 2017, Senator Stace Nelson officially and undisputedly has a 14.3% success rate. If we’re rounding up. Quite the difference from his self proclaimed 53% success rate.
Which kind of begs the question of why the Senator felt the need to put together his utterly manufactured “chart of awesomeness” in the first place, much less why he’s parading it around to the press. Even Todd Epp at KELO made a point to talk about how it doesn’t tell the entire story.
In fact, sometimes the best legislators make a point to keep legislation from passing. (You know, the whole “the Government which governs the best, governs least” thing.) If scads of legislation are being brought simply to bolster legislative egos and feelings of self-worth, that’s a bad, bad thing. And it should certainly bring into question when legislators parade the buffoonery of self-made charts about how awesome they are where they’ve intentionally skewed the numbers to maximize the appearance of their efforts whether real or contrived.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Senator Nelson’s statistics. All things that should be avoided if we’re going to accurately formulate how effective our legislators truly are.